Fifty-four years following an unfinished burial

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I.

The pigweed is choking out the old summer garden, 
and these morning glories have finally figured out 
the shortest distance between the dirt 
and the kitchen floorboards. 
 
The family pictures, all gone 
except for this one of Henry leaning against 
Mister Sam’s blue Chevrolet Coupe. 
You can see cousin Laurel’s shadow falling
across the patch of dandelions beside his boot,
him with a grin, and 
her, well, I don’t know
what happened  to her,
no one ever said whether living or dead.
 
That picture slipped behind the pantry shelves
and no one noticed it missing
for almost 60 years. 
Henry died back in ‘62. 
 
Spring, 1973,
another twister shredded 
the porch and the backyard tool shed. 
No one was hurt but 
for the way we thought about things.
We stayed on that particular patch of land.
Where else would we go? 
What else did we have?
 
Youngest brother Davy lost to lung cancer 
back in ‘89,
sister Marlene broke her hip down cellar
and it grew a blood clot, early winter, 2003. 
Mom, bless her heart, heart attack at 52, 
Dad, soon after that, broken-hearted 
and emphysema, 55.
And the rest that was left, cousins
and further-back kin,
well, they drifted away, you know, 
they just drifted apart.
 
There is no real hole in the moon
when it hoists itself up as a curled pale shaving,
it is the illusion of its incompleteness 
that sets your mind to doubt.

II.

Me and Lucille, we are the last ones. There is a particular sorrow in saying, ‘Remember Cousin Muriel?’ because no one does. Loo’s memory is fading, and I am right behind her. The years, you know, they pile one atop the other until the weight closes the lid. 

“They drift, honey,” Loo says, reading my mind again. “The memories, they drift like leaves, out of order, random as curtains. Sure, I remember Muriel.”

We are lying in bed, hearing/not hearing the oscillating fan that escorts us to sleep, thick family quilts piled by our feet, sardine-colored light pouring through venetian blinds. It is my turn to cook breakfast, but the floor is still cold, and I can see every word of our conversation turn to vapor. 

“I remember Muriel,” she says, and she squeezes my hand.

III.

Said my Loo: She was a very pale girl, short brown hair. Mousy hair.

I remember her lipstick, said I, what color would you call it? Brown?

Some kind of maroon, I think. It was an ugly color. Muriel introduced us, you and me, do you remember that? You were frightened of her, and that made me laugh. I don’t know why, because she scared me too. You lived just past the four-way stop, where it turned into Baltimore Road, and I spoke to you for the first time at church. You were quite a bit older.

I was two years older, Loo.

But I was a girl, she said. Two years is a lot at that particular age. 

Go on about Muriel. How did you know her?

Oh, said Loo, she sometimes taught Sunday school class, whenever Miss Barbara was ill. Her voice was so deep, like quarry water. She scared most of the girls, but she had a look in her eyes, a bedevilled look, like everything was a clever joke she constructed.

She was oddly built, I said. And her voice did come from her feet.

But she could recite those passages like she meant them. She could have become a preacher, in a different time.

And did she?

Did she what, dear?

Did she believe what she read, the gospels and the epistles, the psalms and the songs?

I don’t know, said Loo. I know she cursed when she was angry, which was often. Such vile words.

I remember her funeral, I said. It was an odd thing. It was so quiet until near the end of the service. You could barely hear the preacher speak.

No, wait, said Loo. I remember that, too.

Remember? Someone from town noticed she had been buried in the wrong plot.

They put her beside your cousin Henry, was that it?

Henry was not kin, I said. I’m not sure of his distinction. He was a friend of cousin Laurel, I think. Henry died the year before. Scarlet Fever? I know that Muriel was afraid of him, she made mention of it to everyone. No one ever explained to me why she was afraid of him. Oh, what a foolish mistake that was, burying her in the wrong spot. It made the whole thing feel so unfinished. I was twelve years old, and even I knew it was a bad thing.

Did they ever move her to a different spot?

No, I said. It would take too long, and cause too much sorrow for the family to go through it again. The church planted a rosebush between the two plots as a compromise, but the roses always died. In time, everyone who attended the funeral passed, or forgot, or stopped caring. Because that all happened in the old century, you know.

Just like us, said Loo, rather bitterly. From the old century. And then she smiled. But we still remember, don’t we, Charlie?

For now, I answered. This damn room isn’t getting any warmer. You want your eggs scrambled or over-easy this morning?

Oh, honey, you know how I like them. I trust you.

IV.

Take a look at this picture. It was taken by someone I don’t remember, of someone whom I can barely recall. But I remember the event, the time of day, the slant of the sun, the sound of the bees surrounding the morning glories, the smell of the illicit beer on Henry’s breath, my father laughing behind me, my mother watching through the kitchen window, and I remember my cousin Laurel sliding away from the camera. She was a shy girl.

Mister Sam drove his brand new Coupe straight onto our lawn, and he parked it beside the side porch. My father loved the lines of that car, coveted it for himself, and wanted a chance to drive it. The car was beyond his means, but he didn’t hold it against Mister Sam. They were friends.

Someone pulled out their box camera, Henry stepped in front before anyone was ready for a formal shot, and the picture was taken.

But look closely. Focus in on the shadow that leans into the dandelions by Henry’s foot. There is a second shadow intersecting the primary one. It belongs to me, reaching for a kiss from Laurel. She was trying to move away from me, and her shadow bumped into the portrait. She was afraid of me. It wasn’t my first attempt at a kiss. And she wasn’t the only cousin from whom I attempted one.

“Don’t,” she said, and then she ran away. She didn’t say anything when I met up with her later, when we were alone.

I have lost my dear Lucille, and my heart grows more weary with each step I take towards her stone. We were the last of our time, me and Loo, and now I’m the last. I will lay roses on her grave every day until I am unable, and hope they will survive me. She is the only one I need to remember.

It is the illusion of my completeness that sets my mind to doubt.

(photo from Pexels.com)

12 thoughts on “Fifty-four years following an unfinished burial

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